Who’s big brother ? senators ask Aegis Juris frat members
THE so-called “big brother” of the Aegis Juris Fraternity, in which members were implicated in the Sept. 17 death of UST law student Horacio “Atio” Castillo III following a hazing during an initiation rites, has remained unknown.
During the resumption of the Senate public order and dangerous drugs hearing on Castillo’s death, Sen. Grace Poe questioned frat member Atty. Eric Fuentes, who was the “big brother” he mentioned in a chat group on Facebook.
Poe tagged the “connections” of a high-profile law office headed by lawyer Nilo Divina of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law that might possibly provide critical links in the case of Castillo III.
During the resumption of the Senate hearing on the death of the Aegis Juris neophyte, Poe cited instances of the involvement of DivinaLaw, whose founder and managing partner is a member of the Aegis Juris Fraternity--the fraternity that carried out the initiation rites on Castillo on Sept. 17.
Poe said the Pacific Star Building, which houses DivinaLaw, is owned by Century Properties, whose corporate secretary is a “senior partner” at DivinaLaw.
The senator also revealed that Century Properties also owns Novotel Manila in Cubao, Quezon City where some Aegis Juris fratmen, including some elder brods, met in the afternoon of Sept. 17, hours after Castillo’s death.
Also in the Senate, Senator Panfilo Lacson on Monday called on the Department of Justice to look into the possibility that hazing suspect-turned-witness Marc Anthony Ventura might be a “Trojan horse” in order to muddle the probe into Castillo’s death.
Lacson made the statement after he noticed inconsistencies in Ventura’s claims about him being a former master initiator of the UST-based Aegis Juris Fraternity that conducted the initiation rites for Castillo on Sept. 17.
“I am also thinking of--this is the malicious part of me being an investigator all my life--the possibility that Marc Ventura, pardon me, is Trojan horse. Have you looked at it? Have you considered that?” Lacson told Acting Prosecutor General Jorge Catalan Jr. during the Senate probe into Castillo’s death.
In the exchange of chat, Fuentes also relayed big brother’s request for all frat members to show support to their “brods” by attending the Senate investigation and also to visit John Paul Solano, one of the principal suspects in Castillo’s death.
Poe demanded from Fuentes to identify the big brother he was referring to in the messages he posted on the Facebook for all the frat members allegedly involved in the fatal hazing at the Juris library in Sampaloc, Manila..
“Madam chairman, big brother is a generic term that we give to all our GPs [Grand Prafectus] or elders, your honor,” Fuentes told the Senate panel chaired by Lacson.
Upon hearing Fuentes’ reply, Lacson interrupted, saying, “medyo klaro yung elder, or elders. Iba yung big brother sa elder, so don’t tell us na pareho yun, na generic yun sa elders.”
Fuentes maintained it was really the term they’re using to address the elder members of their fraternity,
Poe then questioned Fuentes if the fraternity considered Dean Nilo Divina of the UST Faculty of Civil Law a “big brother.”
“We can but we don’t call him big brother, your honor. We call him Dean Divina or Sir Divina,” retorted Fuentes.
Another frat member, Alston Anarna, also posted on the FB that big brother should be informed to direct the barangay near the Juris library to say that the CCTV in the area was not functioning on the date of the hazing and immediately after the initiation rites.
Marc Anthony Ventura, former fraternity official, who participated in the initiation rites but turned state witness, gave a different answer when Poe pressed for the identity of big brother.
He said big brother referred to only one person, but he has never met him nor even introduced himself to him as big brother.
Ventura, who also said he was not among those who paddled Castillo, said he knew big brother as Atty. Arnel Bernardo, another frat member.
He also apologized several times for failing to answer some questions of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian. But when Gatchalian quizzed him how many people had hit Castillo, Ventura said: “Apat po.”
Ventura also admitted to Gatchalian that it took about 30 to 40 minutes before Castillo was brought to the Chinese General Hospital.because somebody prevented them.
But Lacson asked the Department of Justice to look into the possibility that Ventura might be a “Trojan horse” to muddle the investigation into Castillo’s death.
Meanwhile, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, who initiated the Senate probe, confronted Bernardo about Ventura’s statement that he’s the “big brother,” the latter said he’s not aware about this tag.
Poe tagged the “connections” of a high-profile law office headed by Divina that might possibly provide critical links in the case of Castilo.
Manila Police District Senior Supt. Joel Coronel earlier testified in the Senate hearing that at least 19 fraternity members attended the meeting at Novotel to allegedly plan a “cover-up” on Castillo’s death,
“The points being raised here are a matter of obstruction of justice, a cover up. May messages na inuutusan ang isang tao na i-erase ang CCTV, na bayaran kung kailangan ang barangay officials para makuha ang CCTV. Obviously, this is a clear cover up,” emphasized Zubiri.
Poe requested for footage of the closed-circuit television cameras at the Pacific Star building to check if Castillo had visited the law firm.
On Sept. 12, Castillo texted his mother that he was at a law office just across Petron on Buendia Ave.
“The reason why I’m asking here is because there are just a few connections here that we need to seriously note,” said Poe, vice chairperson of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs.
Lacson said the building owner is asking for a court order before the Senate committee secures CCTV footages, but the panel was able to obtain video recordings on Sept. 12 which showed Castillo inside the building.
He presented the CCTV during the hearing.
“So I just want to make sure that they’re complying because their general counsel is DivinaLaw, again connected to this situation,” said Poe.
Shown footage of the building, Castillo’s parents confirmed to senators that their son was indeed the man wearing the blue jacket.
“It looks very much like him... His mom bought that jacket. He was wearing black pants and black shoes. And also the hairstyle,” Castillo’s father, Horacio Jr., said.
Castillo’s mother, Carminia, affirmed her husband’s testimony.
A photo of the blue jacket was likewise flashed on the big screen at the Senate gallery where the Senate hearing was being conducted.
Notwithstanding the CCTV footage, Divina said Castillo did not set foot at his law office last Sept. 12, and denied seeing him at Pacific Star.
“One thing is for certain, he (Castillo) did not set foot in DivinaLaw. We installed 16 CCTVs in our office and it will clearly show that he did not set foot in DivinaLaw office,” said Divina, adding they submitted footages to the committee.
However, Poe said that Castillo could have met with senior fraternity members in other areas of the building.
“Is there a possibility that he may not have set foot physically in your office but he may have met a few of your people within the building, maybe a cafeteria or any other common place? It’s not unlikely that DivinaLaw, maintaining an official lease in one particular space there, could also have another place where you meet in the building. Is there a possibility?” Poe asked Divina, to which he responded that he was “not so sure about that.”
Divina said there were about three law offices in Pacific Star building.
He claimed he had distanced himself from the fraternity, including its activities and meetings, telling Senate probers during previous hearings that he took a leave of absence some eight years ago and was not an active member anymore.
Citing connections of the fraternity and its activities with the UST dean, he rejected the assertions of Divina.
“From what is clear here he said that he (Castillo) was going to a law office. It could be one of the three, not necessarily yours. All of the connections--Aegis Juris having strong ties with DivinaLaw; DivinaLaw maintaining the website for the school; DivinaLaw having a lot of support for the fraternity; you being the dean and him, mentioning that he is in a law office close to that building or within that building where you have your law firm,” said Poe.
Before that meeting took place, some 30 frat members exchanged messages on Facebook to discuss their next move, which the Manila Police District said was an attempt to cover up the criminal act.
Ventura also said he went to the Pacific Star building before the initiation rites, but not inside the DivinaLaw office.
He said he met DivinaLaw members after he was accepted as member of the fraternity.
The senators also grilled the UST administration for their “negligence” and unclear accreditation guidelines for organizations in the university.
UST Faculty of Civil Law Student Council Chairman Jonathan Santos said all organizations, including the Aegis Juris Fraternity, were able to present their organizations during the freshmen orientation conducted prior to start of classes in August.
He said it was only in September that the Aegis Juris was deemed not recognized.
Ma. Socorro Guan Hing, Director of UST’s Office of the Student Affairs, backed Divina’s claim and said: “All organizations have submitted their papers for recognition, and it is presumed they are regular so all of them were given the chance to say something during the orientation prior the official recognition documents which happened sometime in September.
But Zubiri was not satisfied with their explanations, and stressed there appeared to be a problem with UST’s policies on accreditation of organizations.
He said Castillo’s recruitment and death could have been prevented if the University and its Faculty of Civil Law had come out with a very clear-cut policy determining which fraternities or organizations were recognized or not.
Meanwhile, Lacson said frat member Arvin Balag would remain at the Senate’s detention facility since he filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court, seeking a temporary restraining order against the Senate’s detention order.
“Nobody wants to lose by default, so we will fight it out in the Supreme Court and in the meantime, you will stay longer in the Senate premises,” Lacson told Balag.
He has been detained at the Senate detention facility Oct. 18 on contempt charges.
Balag apologized to the Senate panel, saying he did not mean any disrespect when he repeatedly invoked his right against self-incrimination.
He was then being asked to confirm if he was the fraternity head.
Asked by Lacson on his recommendation to strengthen the Anti-Hazing Law, Balag, who according to the affidavit of Ventura, delivered the 5th and final paddle hit on Castillo, said it should be abolished.